Bolivia Gets First Submarine Fiber Optic Cable

Bolivia inaugurates it’s first submarine fiber optic cable, thus enabling faster, reliable connectivity with the rest of the world. By deploying this cable, Bolivia is now able to reduce its dependency on foreign wholesale telecommunication service providers for connectivity to a greater extent.

The submarine fiber optic cable spanning 2,200 kilometers runs through major urban landscapes across Bolivia, including Tacna, Tarata, Mazocruz, Huaytire, Moquegua, and Mollenda. The cable network built at a cost of US$66 million will be operated by the country’s state-run telecom firm Entel.

Being a landlocked country, Bolivia has no direct access to submarine cable networks and must therefore connect to the rest of the world either via satellite or through terrestrial links across neighboring countries.

Telecom carriers in Bolivia were borrowing the capacity from wholesale vendors in neighboring Chile and Peru until now. This business model has caused increased communication costs in the country that kept the common people away from broadband services.

The landing of fiber optic cable in the country will result in the reduction of service costs in the coming months. In other words, Bolivia enters the age of fast and cheap internet, as declared by the country’s Interim President Jeanine Áñez following the inauguration of the cable system.

Internet download speed averages at 19.4Mbps in Bolivia, according to Ookla’s Speedtest Global Index. The project is in fact the brainchild of former president Evo Morales, who drafted a legislative bill to declare internet service a “human right.”

Bolivia has enjoyed strong economic growth in recent years, but its GDP remains among the lowest in South America. Many areas of the country outside the main cities are poor and undeveloped, and there is a sizeable proportion of the population that lives in remote valleys and areas where telecom infrastructure has been chronically neglected.

Due to the above reasons, the penetration of telecom services is relatively low in Bolivia. The structure of Bolivia’s fixed telecom market is different from most other countries. Local services are primarily provided by 15 telecom cooperatives. These are non-profit-making companies privately owned and controlled by their users. Since the market was liberalized the cooperatives have also provided long-distance telephony, while several also offer broadband and pay-TV services. They have invested in network upgrades in a bid to improve services for customers and to expand their footprints.

Bolivia has a multi-carrier system wherein consumers can choose a long-distance carrier for each call by dialing the carrier’s prefix. A number of operators have also adopted fixed-wireless technologies and some rent fiber-optic capacity.

State-owned Empresa Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (Entel) is the country’s incumbent long-distance operator, also offering local telephony, DSL, and satellite pay-TV services. Its subsidiary Entel Movil is Bolivia’s largest mobile network provider.

Bolivia’s fixed broadband services remain expensive, though the cost of bandwidth is only a fraction of what it was only a few years ago. Services are still unavailable in many rural and remote areas, and even in some of the major urban areas.

Fixed broadband services are fast migrating from DSL to fiber, while there are also cable broadband services available in some major cities. After the renationalisation of Entel in 2007, it has focused on providing telecom services in rural areas under a project known as ‘Territory with Total Coverage’. This project aims to increase telecom coverage through mobile rather than through fixed networks.

Bolivia has more than ten times as many mobile phones as fixed lines, and the trend towards fixed-mobile substitution continues. Besides Entel, another two companies offer mobile telephony: Tigo, wholly owned by Luxembourg-based Millicom International, and NuevaTel, trading as Viva and controlled by US firm Trilogy International.

All three mobile companies offer 3G services while LTE is available. Due to the poor quality, high cost, and poor reach of DSL, mobile networks have become the principal platform for voice services and data access. The take-up of services based on LTE has risen steadily as network builds have been increased. Tigo launched the first LTE services in mid-2014, followed by Viva in mid-2015 and by early 2019 both companies’ networks reached more than 90% of the population. About 92% of all internet accesses are via smartphones.

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